Back in 1947, Hollywood came out with a film called “Carnegie Hall” that showcased performances by some leading classical stars of the time. Fifty years later, Carnegie Hall has returned the favor by putting on a hugely entertaining program of performances and reminiscences, looking a lot like a live version of “That’s Entertainment!”
A mixture of deftly assembled film clips and the reassuring spectacle of a galaxy of MGM alumni displaying flashes of their old charisma drove the program, which co-host Michael Feinstein bracketed with a pair of star-struck renditions of “That’s Entertainment.”
While the program was designed to celebrate the good old days of Hollywood — Culver City, actually — it was amazing how many of those films were rooted in the ethos of New York City, nurtured by native-born performers and creators, adapted from Broadway shows and featuring New York locales (the apotheosis being “On the Town”). And the stars on the bill displayed as much reverence for Carnegie Hall in their remarks as any classical musician would.
Among the many star turns, a few highlights linger: the ebullient and indestructible home team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who entertained with perky pantomimes and anecdotes about “Singin’ in the Rain” and their first film, “Good News”; Van Johnson’s bravado; Skitch Henderson’s Debussy-like treatment of “You Stepped Out of a Dream” on the piano; and Betty Garrett’s affectionate remembrances of Frank Sinatra. A few stars slipped comfortably into the songs of their departed colleagues — Celeste Holm’s gracious rendition of the Bing Crosby-Grace Kelly vehicle “True Love,” and Donald O’Connor’s casual, smooth “Singin’ in the Rain,” complete with a few dance steps.
Mickey Rooney, who appeared toward the end, was greeted by a huge ovation prompted by a long montage of clips from his energetic early films — a nostalgic high point of the evening. He then extended the wave by gracefully introducing a series of clips of the beguilingly young Judy Garland, and Ann Miller was nearly overcome by the images of her younger self.